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Oxyana Review

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Drug addiction, particularly to prescription pain medication like OxyContin, has become so commonplace in Oceana, West Virginia that its residents simply refer to it as “Oxyana.” This also serves as the title of a documentary in which director Sean Dunne turns his camera toward men and women, most of them addicts themselves, whose stories will shake you to your core. In Oxyana, husbands kill wives, children for pills. Mothers give up their babies. Women prostitute themselves. It’s a horrifying tale made worse by the fact that there genuinely seems like nothing can be done to reverse the awful trends.

Oxyana (the movie, not the town) is, more or less, your standard talking heads documentary. Dunne avoids the use of voiceover, but he almost always has his camera planted firmly in front of an Oceana resident. Sometimes that man or women is actually shooting up on camera. They’re all so addicted that they can’t go but a few hours without a fix before they start with the cold sweats and convulsing.

Even when they aren’t shooting up, however, their drug dependency is uncomfortably palpable. One resident in particular—a man who speaks faster than anyone I’ve ever met in my life—can’t seem to sit still. He’s one of Dunne’s most visible contributors, and the one time over the course of the film during which he sits and calms down, he shares the film’s most horrific story about a double murder within his family—empty prescription drug bottles strewn about the scene of the crime.

When the film isn’t focused directly on these individuals, it’s soaking in the sights of Oceana, West Virginia. The film is predicated on the idea that this place—this desolate, miserable, hopeless place—is far worse a drug haven than you’ve ever seen before. Dunne’s attention to detail is noteworthy. His approach—interspersing interviews with long, dialogue-free passages of scene-setting—sometimes slows the film’s momentum. That said, Oxyana‘s score (courtesy of the band Deer Tick), which drives these scenes, is exceptional.

Dunne’s ability to coax such honesty and brutality from his interview subjects is simply remarkable. One of his other big accomplishments: the inexplicable way he almost makes drug use seem acceptable. “Just say no” isn’t an option for the men and women of Oxyana because they’re so dependent, they genuinely think they’ll die. Are these people who deserve lengthy jail sentences for their addictions? At the very least, one has to concede that there’s a case to be made against such treatment. There isn’t a lick of hope in their town. It’s almost as if they’re already in prison…

As is usually the case with the best anti-drug message movies, there isn’t any mistaking Oxyana for the feel-good story of the year. You’ll find yourself overcome with emotion on more than one occasion—simply the mark of a film and filmmaker on fire. Put plainly, Oxyana is a fantastic documentary that sheds light on a pressing American problem in a deeply personal way. Seek it out.

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